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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/29/2015

Guests: Ruth Marcus, Lynn Sweet, Michael Eric Dyson, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky, Ginger Gibson

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 29, 2015 Guest: Ruth Marcus, Lynn Sweet, Michael Eric Dyson, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky, Ginger Gibson

JOY REID, GUEST HOST: Could hitting Bill Clinton knock out the Donald?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Joy Reid, in for Chris Matthews.

Moments ago, Donald Trump concluded a press conference aboard his plane, and he`s headed to a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We`ll bring that to you live when it happens. The Republican front-runner meanwhile continued his attacks on Bill Clinton today. Yesterday, Trump tweeted about Bill Clinton`s, quote, "terrible record of women abuse" -- his words.

On the "TODAY" show this morning, he showed no signs of backing off.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was certainly a lot of abuse of women, and you look at whether it`s Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones or many of them, and that certainly will be fair game. Certainly, if they play the woman`s card with respect to me, that will be fair game.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying an extramarital affair by Bill Clinton is fair game and something that you think should be in the campaign?

TRUMP: I`m not saying -- what I`m saying is very simple. If she is going to play the woman card -- because I`ll do more for women than Hillary Clinton is going to do for women, including the safety of our country, which is good for everybody -- but if she`s going to play, which she started about a week ago, talking about, Oh, he mentioned -- and you know, the whole thing, playing up the women`s card very, very strongly -- and if she`s going to play that game and if he`s going to be out there campaigning, then he`s certainly fair game. And I think just everybody agrees with me on that.


REID: OK, that was Trump saying that Bill Clinton`s history with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones is fair game.

For an alternative viewpoint, however, let`s watch this video from -- it`s from 2008. It`s from a prominent businessman who called those very scandals totally unimportant. Now, he may seem somewhat familiar.


TRUMP: Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.


REID: Now, Trump was asked about that discrepancy today.


TRUMP: As a businessman, especially as a really successful businessman, it was my obligation to really get along with people. That`s Democrats, Republicans, everybody. And that`s what I did.

I`m a conservative Republican, and in many ways, I`m very conservative, but I had an obligation to my company and to my employees and to my family to get along. So I was able to get along with Clinton. I was able to get along with virtually every politician you can imagine. And when I went to Washington and when I needed something, I got it.


REID: OK, so if you`re trying to keep up, Trump the businessman thought it was nonsense. Trump the politician thinks it`s fair game.

The bigger question -- what will voters think? Could playing the Lewinsky card actually backfire? Sam Stein is the HuffingtonPost`s political editor and an MSNBC contributor. Perry Bacon is senior political reporter for NBC News. And Ruth Marcus is a columnist for "The Washington Post." Good evening, everyone.

I`m going to come to you first on this, Sam. So Donald Trump is essentially saying it`s fair game to go after Hillary on Bill Clinton if she dares to mention the fact that she is a woman. Does this make any sense to you?



STEIN: There`s not much consistency here between what Trump said in 2008, what he`s saying now. But what struck me about the clip you just played is that he said that he needed to make friends as a businessman because you needed favors to get done, which logically leads us to believe that he doesn`t think you need to be friendly with people as a politician.

And that is completely confusing to me because if you do want to get things done -- we have this system called democracy. We have dual powers of government here, legislative power and executive power -- you actually do have to get along with people.

And it seems to me that Trump doesn`t quite comprehend the idea that politics is not just about sharp elbows, but about reaching out to folks who you might disagree with to get something done. And that just leads you to believe that he thinks of himself more as a dictator than, let`s say, a presidential candidate.

REID: That`s an interesting way to frame it.

In the press conference just a few minutes ago, Trump was asked if his own personal indiscretions might be fair game, as well. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Yes, they would be. And frankly, Hillary brought up the whole thing with sexist. And all I did is reverse it on her because she`s got a major problem, happens to be right in her house. So if she wants to do that, we`re going to go right after the president, the ex-president, and we`ll see how it all comes out.


REID: You know, Perry Bacon, Jr., there is an episode of "Star Trek" where the character of Charlie essentially says that everyone had better be nice to him or he`ll freeze them all. That is the way that he dealt with people he felt weren`t being sufficiently nice.

And I feel like Trump`s argument is, Everyone has to be nice to me, including my actual potential general election opponent...


REID: ... or else. I can`t parse it any other way. Couldn`t his own indiscretions come up legitimately if he`s bringing up Bill Clinton`s?

PERRY BACON, NBC SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Of course they could. He`s been saying this for a while, though. When his opponents attack him, he says, I`ll be nice, but if you attack me, I`ll attack even harder. He said that today in the press conference, in fact. He constantly invokes this idea that, If I`m attacked first, I`m going to attack even harder following that.

He seems to me to be conflating some issues, though. It`s not -- what he`s talking about is Bill Clinton having an affair while at the White House. That`s different from the comments that Trump has made about Megyn Kelly and about other things like -- Bill Clinton had an affair that was a marital indiscretion. Trump is being accused of sexism in a different way, I would argue. He`s sort of conflating two issues that are very different in my mind.

That said, politically, Trump attacking the Clintons is going to help, not hurt, in the Republican primary.

REID: Yes, because the person you didn`t mention in that soliloquy (ph) was Hillary Clinton, who`s the one running for president.

OK, Ruth, you wrote a column today that`s getting a lot of attention. And this was the headline. It was, "Trump is right, Bill Clinton`s sordid sexual history is fair game."

Let me quote you a bit. You write, "Ordinarily, I would argue that the sins of the husband should not be visited on the wife. But Hillary Clinton has made two moves that lead me, gulp, to agree with Trump on the fair game front. She is, smartly, using her husband as a campaign surrogate and simultaneously, correctly, calling Trump sexist. These moves open a dangerous door. It should surprise no one that Trump has barged right through it."

So Ruth, defend this column just a little bit because Trump isn`t saying that he would use President Clinton`s indiscretions in some substantive way. He`s essentially saying, If she says she`s a woman, I`m going to get her, and if she attempts to say that she`d be good for women, I`m going to get her. And if she isn`t nice to me, I`m going to get her.

I`m not quite understanding how you agree with that.

RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I`m not actually agreeing with your characterization of what he`s saying, and so let me back up. Trump says that Bill Clinton`s activities while he was president -- and I would call this more than an extramarital affair, with all due respect to my friend, Perry. I would say that while he was the head of a company, say, with a subordinate, had a sexual relationship with a subordinate, that would have resulted in any head of a company being thrown out of his job for engaging in the same sort of behavior. Then he lied about it under oath in a deposition and to a federal grand jury.

So I think this was some pretty serious behavior that we`re talking about. And I think, as with all campaign surrogates, if you send Bill Clinton out and he is your chief campaign surrogate -- and let me be clear, I thought Bill Clinton had a -- was a very successful president, but he was a successful president with a big blot on his record, which was his conduct.

REID: But Ruth...

MARCUS: And so when you send him out as a surrogate in that way, you open yourself up to criticism of his behavior in office, and especially when you are criticizing the leading candidate in the other party for his attitudes towards women.

REID: Well, Ruth, I have to ask you this. What could Hillary Clinton, as first lady of the United States, have done about any of that? How is it her responsibility?

MARCUS: I am actually -- I am not saying that it`s her responsibility. What I am saying is that when you -- just as if -- if Donald Trump sent somebody out in the campaign who had a history of racist remarks or sexist remarks or had been convicted of some sort of offensive activity -- and Bill Clinton was impeached, recall, and we can agree or disagree, but it is there -- you are responsible as a campaign for the surrogates that you send out to their behavior and comments of the surrogates that you send out to push your message. And I think it`s perfectly fair game to raise Bill Clinton`s past in that regard.

It`s totally up to voters whether they think that`s relevant or not to their assessment of Hillary Clinton`s candidacy. But my point is that I don`t think it`s at all off the reservation for Donald Trump to be kind of fighting back at Hillary Clinton with this issue.

And let me be clear. The start of that column said that Donald Trump was sexist, racist, narcissist, any "ist" you want to attach to. I`m, you know, signing up for that.

REID: But then Ruth, you`re equating Bill Clinton, essentially, with a convicted felon. Bill Clinton was the opposite of that, in that his impeachment resulted in his acquittal in the United States Senate.

MARCUS: Well, what I`m saying is that when you send a surrogate out on the campaign trail, you are accepting some degree of responsibility for that surrogate`s past comments and past behavior.

REID: OK. Well, I want to very quickly go to Sam Stein and just ask a bit of a follow-up question because the flip side of that is that if Donald Trump or any Republican candidate were to decide that the way they`re going to fight Hillary Clinton is to relitigate Bill Clinton`s presidency and relitigate his personal scandals, what might that do, for instance, to women who are attempting to look at those two candidates? Wouldn`t that, in essence, increase sympathy for Hillary Clinton?

STEIN: It would. Let me start out by saying I don`t disagree with Ruth`s premise here. I mean, it does seem like surrogates are fair game when you send them out on the campaign trail, including their personal conduct or their moral failings in whatever business or political activity they have.

The issue here, though, is that Donald Trump is the candidate and Hillary Clinton is the candidate. And Trump is the primary purveyor of the sexism and Hillary Clinton -- you know, I don`t know what she could have done differently to prevent Bill`s moral failings, and I`m not sure we should expect her to publicly condemn him as much as -- you know, more than she has already.

So that being said, there is also a vulnerability that Trump brings onto himself when he goes after this. There`s been research done by some prominent Republican operatives looking into this. They looked at how leaning-Republican women, independent women, and leaning-Democratic women voters react to attacks on Bill Clinton`s conduct with respect to the Monica Lewinsky affair. And they all seem to feel very sympathetic to Hillary Clinton when that attack is launched.

And they have wide disagreements on policy grounds. They don`t necessarily trust her on foreign policy grounds. But when you go after her husband, it engenders sympathy. And so while it is a very potent attack in the Republican primary, it doesn`t really work in the general election.

REID: Well, and then the other question, Perry, to say nothing of the fact that one of the complications of running as a woman is this notion that you are trying to be your own person and you`re having a male opponent essentially say, No, you are your spouse. Your male spouse is the primary person we want to talk about here, not you. I wonder how this works for a Republican.

BACON: I think in this case, Hillary Clinton is on the stage no doubt in part because her husband had a successful presidency. So I think that she comes in with some of his challenges and some of his advantages, as well. So you know if you`re Hillary Clinton, you`re going to run on Bill Clinton`s record to some extent.

But I agree with Sam in some ways. I don`t necessarily -- there aren`t a lot of swing voters left in a Trump versus Hillary Clinton election. I`m guessing there will be very -- even fewer swing voters than usual.

But this -- and I`m not sure in the general election would help Trump, but Trump`s running in the primary right now. I think getting in a fight with Hillary Clinton is really smart for him right now. This is a better issue, I would argue, than sort of the Muslim man (ph), for sure. It`s something most Republicans agree that Bill Clinton`s behavior in the White House was not appropriate.

REID: Yes, I think that we can (INAUDIBLE) I`ll give you the last word on this, Ruth, because it was your column that sparked this lively discussion. For you, as a woman...

MARCUS: I think it might have been Trump that sparked the discussion, but thanks!


REID: Well, there you go. But Ruth, I mean, does it give you any pause as a woman, this idea that a woman candidate for the president of the United States gets judged based upon her husband, rather than her own record?

MARCUS: It would give me pause as a general matter. I think this is such an unusual context, where it`s not just her husband, it`s her husband, the former president of the United States, her husband, her chief campaign surrogate. So the Clintons are -- they`re just a sort of unique phenomenon, for better or for worse.

And by the way, I just want to say I totally do agree with the notion that this is pretty smart primary campaign tactic. This is not going to play well in the general election.


REID: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you very much to Sam Stein, Perry Bacon and Ruth Marcus.

And coming up -- you see it in Cleveland, you see it in Chicago and across the country, tension between the police and communities of color. But how will those tensions play out in the 2016 election when voters head to the polls? We`ll look at what it could mean for the top contenders, including the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.

Also, terrorism has risen to one of the top priorities among voters, so where does the threat stand this week as we approach New Year`s Eve? I`ll ask a top terror expert.

Plus, as we await another campaign rally from Donald Trump during this hour, the establishment candidates are going after, well, each other. Today`s example, the pro-Jeb super-PAC is slamming Marco Rubio for not showing up to his Senate job. And as you might imagine, Rubio`s team is fighting back. But guess who else wants in on the attacks?

And lastly tonight, the HARDBALL roundtable will tell me something I don`t know when they predict who will be the next Republican to drop out of the race for 2016.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: George Pataki, the former governor of New York, is reportedly about to drop his presidential run. James Pindell of "The Boston Globe" broke the story that Pataki is calling his supporters in New Hampshire to tell them it`s over.

Pataki ran the Empire State for three terms but never gained traction in this presidential cycle. He plans on airing a TV announcement tonight in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

We`ll be right back.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With less than five weeks to go until the 2016 primary season, the headlines dominating the front pages look a lot more like the summer of 2014 and 2015, with stories of police-involved shootings and the resulting outrage among families, activists and communities.

"The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and "USA Today" are all running lead stories about yesterday`s grand jury decision out of Cleveland not to indict the officers involved in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The fallout in Chicago was splashed across the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" after this weekend`s accidental police-involved shootings there.

Today, the headlines continued. In Cleveland, Tamir Rice`s family continued its push for a federal investigation, arguing that county prosecutor Tim McGinty, quote, "sabotaged the case." In Chicago, the officer charged with first degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald appeared in court today to plead not guilty.

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel returned to Chicago today amid growing calls for his resignation. The embattled mayor cut short his family`s Cuba vacation following another crisis at the Chicago PD.

For Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, these tensions cannot be ignored. These communities are Democratic strongholds. Ohio is a battleground state. The big question for both parties is how to navigate these fault lines, which are some of the most volatile in American politics.

Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief at "The Chicago Sun-Times" and Michael Eric Dyson is an MSNBC political analyst.

And I want to start off with you, Lynn, and just in this sense, for Democrats, in addressing how to deal with these unfolding scandals and the damage that`s being done, to some of their most prominent surrogates, quite frankly, one of whom is Rahm Emanuel -- how does the Hillary Clinton campaign deal with Emanuel now?

LYNN SWEET, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, Rahm Emanuel has not been a prominent surrogate to date in the way that -- if you mean by that, Joy, that he`s traveled or he`s been prominent in fund-raising.

So, she has stood by him so far, but that was before the second shooting incident that took place over the weekend, where two people were killed by police, including a 55-year-old grandmother who just opened the door to let the police in.

So, we don`t -- I don`t expect Rahm Emanuel now to have any prominent role in the campaign. He has a lot to do in Chicago. He is very damaged, and there is damage that he needs to repair.

REID: Well, Lynn, let me play you what Hillary Clinton recently said when she was asked if she had confidence in Rahm Emanuel`s leadership. And I have a question on the other side.


QUESTION: Do you still have confidence in the mayor of the city where he was born?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. He loves Chicago. And I`m confident he`s going to do everything he can to get to the bottom of these issues and take whatever measures are necessary to remedy them.


REID: And, Lynn, what about the risk of Republicans tying Hillary Clinton to Rahm Emanuel and using his troubles against her?

SWEET: Well, for the moment, they could do that, but then you could just bounce back and say, well, what is your plan for dealing with policing issues? What is your plan for dealing with crime?

These are not -- what is your plan for dealing with the problems that has given rise to My Brother`s Keeper and Black Lives Matter? These are issues that are talked about all the time by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, not the Republicans.

So, for the moment, in Illinois, Rahm Emanuel has his hands full. You know, Hillary Clinton is very popular there. She has a strong slate running of delegates. And if you look nationally, I think probably lucky for the campaign right now, he`s not going to be a figure out there to be polarized, because he has got to, when he gets back to Chicago from Cuba, just stay in the city and figure out a way to have a credible way of regaining trust and putting forth -- what I think are coming as soon as maybe tomorrow are plans dealing with how police use violence and when they engage and -- not how police use violence, how police -- their directives for using armed force.

REID: Right, for using force.

And, Michael Eric Dyson, so we have coming up next March, on March 15, a bunch of big primaries, including in Illinois and Ohio. So it`s not as if the Democrats can avoid this and avoid talking about these topics in their primary race, should it go that long.

Does Hillary Clinton have any vulnerability on this issue of what plans she has in order to change the systems that are in place for communities of color vs. police?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, it may be a no-lose for Hillary Clinton.

On the one hand, if things go bad for Rahm Emanuel, she can contrast that with her rather engaged response to Black Lives Matter and her insistence that public policy will fill the gulf. On the other hand, should things, you know, pan out in the end for Rahm, though it doesn`t look that way, then she can say she offered provisional support for him at a critical time.

So I think that the broader issue here is whether or not the Black Lives Matter moment, along with the issues of police brutality and police misconduct, will have a significant impact upon this 2016 race.

For those quarters and segments of society which -- who are watching closely, it certainly does. But, beyond that, beyond the pale, so to speak, the question remains whether the exigencies that are generated out of the contest between police authority and citizenry response will indeed capture the imagination of the broader public that way, and Hillary Clinton will therefore be forced into a situation that so far she`s managed to avoid.

REID: Yes.


SWEET: Let me point out, if I can, one quick thing.

REID: Go ahead, Lynn.

SWEET: When Hillary Clinton was in Chicago for massive fund-raising recently, she, without publicity and without notice -- I had to track it down -- met with a group of mothers from around the nation whose children were victims of violence, you know, some of the most prominent mothers, you know, from Ferguson, to...

DYSON: Trayvon.

SWEET: ... Trayvon Martin`s mother, mothers of victims of violence in Chicago.

REID: Right.

SWEET: And she -- you know, she`s talked about it a bit on the trail, but she has quietly been laying groundwork to address this. I think it will come out in more -- in a bigger way as time goes on. But she and Bernie Sanders are the ones that are talking about these issues, not the Republicans.

REID: All right. All right.

Let`s thanks both Lynn Sweet and Michael Eric Dyson.

Thank you.

DYSON: Thank you.

SWEET: Thank you.

REID: And up next: assessing the threat, a look at the heightened alert for any potential attacks as we head into the New Year`s holiday weekend.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



COL. STEVE WARREN, U.S. SPOKESMAN FOR OPERATION AGAINST ISIS: We`re also striking at the head of this snake by hunting down and killing ISIL leaders. We have killed 10 ISIL leadership figures with targeted airstrikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks. Others had designs on further attacking the West.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Army Colonel Steve Warren announcing that U.S. airstrikes killed key militant leaders this month, including one member of ISIS in Syria with direct ties to the ringleader of the Paris attacks.

In Brussels this morning, Belgian police announced they`d arrested two people potentially planning future attacks in that country.

And here in the U.S., as New York City prepares to host a million revelers on New Year`s Eve, Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced increased security measures for the countdown to 2016.


BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We are the best prepared city in the country, the best prepared city to prevent terrorism and to deal any event, should it occur.

WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: We are aware that the threat picture has changed because of ISIS. It`s changed significantly from what it was a year ago or two years ago.

And in response to that, and, in fact, ahead of that, in some respects, that`s why we have enlarged our capabilities here in the city, with these additional units.


REID: Both officials said that they are not aware of any specific terror threat targeting Thursday night`s Times Square celebration.

And joining me now is NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann.

So, Evan, connect the dots for us here, because we know that the metric that is used to decide whether or not we are doing well in this war on terror is how many ISIS fighters or ISIS people, ISIS members we are eliminating and targeting and killing, as you heard in that sound bite.

But what does that have to do with the actual security here in the U.S., here at home?

EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, on the good side, a number of the people that supposedly we have killed here were people that were in charge or responsible for ISIS` external operations.

And that would be operations directed at Europe and the United States. And, supposedly, one of these individuals is a French national whose name has been repeated over and over again recently in the French media who supposedly was in touch with the lead ringleader behind the Paris attacks, was planning other attacks.

And that`s great, but we should also remember that some of these other 10 people that were announced today, they were people that were in charge of an IED cell. In other words, they were responsible for putting roadside bombs in place in Syria. It`s difficult to know how direct there is a connection between killing someone like that and preventing the next Paris or the next San Bernardino attacks.

I think it`s -- you know, our officials, our law enforcement and intelligence officials, military officials, they`re under a tremendous amount of pressure right now to try to show progress, to try to show results. And I understand that, but we have to be careful about every time we announce when we kill some people, because not everyone that was on this list was the next Osama bin Laden.

REID: And, Evan, you know, is there also a potential flip side to that, that if we are constantly sort of announcing we have killed this many people and these are their names, is there any -- what is the risk of a retaliatory attack based on that, or people deciding to try to inspire people to do Paris-style attacks based on what we have said that we have done?

KOHLMANN: Well, look, we don`t want to provoke people, but I`m actually afraid of the reverse.

What I`m afraid of this is that this is going to lull us into some kind of complacency, that because we`re killing ISIS members in Syria and Iraq, this means we`re safe.

Look, the reality is, what`s really protecting us from ISIS right now is, is that there aren`t that many people inside the United States that have been radicalized. It`s a relatively small number of people, especially if you compare it to France, the U.K., other countries in Europe.

What distinguishes us from them is not the amazing law enforcement and intelligence apparatus that we have. We definitely have that, but they also have quite a bit of sophistication in that regard. What makes us different is that we don`t have large networks of ISIS recruits here inside the United States the same way we have seen in France and Belgium and other countries.

And one of the central reasons for that is because of the fact that the U.S. has done a much better job than many European states in terms of integrating ethnic and religious minorities into the larger nation, the larger America.

And if we endanger that, if we make Muslims feel like they`re not welcome here, that all vanishes. That all disappears. Right now, we`re looking at ISIS sympathizers and supporters here that are in ones and twos. They`re certainly a threat, but not on the scale of Paris.

If you radicalize people, if you make them feel like they`re not welcome here, if you make them feel like America is really at war with Islam, and that Americans have no respect for Islam, all of that goes away instantly. So, that`s what we should be worried about. That`s what we should be thinking about. That`s what impacts our security.

REID: Evan, thank you so much. Well said. Appreciate it.

KOHLMANN: Thank you.

REID: All right, and coming up: Jeb Bush`s super PAC goes after Marco Rubio, accusing the Florida senator of not showing up for work. And not to be outdone, Chris Christie is now also getting in on the game. That`s next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


ERICA HILL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I`m Erica Hill. Here`s what`s happening at this hour.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon calling on the National Guard in the face of rare winter flooding along the Mississippi. Several towns near the river are under mandatory evacuation orders. Forecasters say the water will not start receding until Friday. At least 18 deaths are already blamed on flooding in Missouri and Illinois. And that storm is still moving east, expected to bring more snow and ice to the Northeast region and intense rain to some Southeastern states -- back now to HARDBALL.

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise is slamming Marco Rubio in a new ad in Iowa today on Rubio`s missed votes in the Senate. Take a look.


NARRATOR: Days after the Paris attacks, senators came together for a top- secret briefing on the terrorist threat. Marco Rubio was missing, fund- raising in California instead. Two weeks later, terrorists struck again in San Bernardino. And where was Marco? Fund-raising again in New Orleans.

Over the last three years, Rubio has missed important national security hearings and missed more total votes than any other senator.


REID: In response, Rubio`s spokesman issued the following statement: "Bush`s team dishonestly omits that Marco is on the Senate`s Intelligence Committee, where he attended the highest-level briefings on the Paris attacks. And no other candidate for president has received more classified intelligence briefings or better understands the threats facing our nation today than Marco. It`s sad to see Jeb`s joyful campaign reduced to such intellectual dishonesty."

A Rubio adviser was also quick to point out that Bush also held a fund- raiser on the night of the San Bernardino attack.

But this latest internecine sniping between one-time mentor and protege comes after Rubio was the only 2016 candidate to skip the vote on the omnibus bill earlier this month, which Ted Cruz and Rand Paul showed up to vote against.

In defeating that -- in defending that decision, Rubio said on CBS that skipping the vote was the same as voting against it, and then told FOX that the bill, which he called garbage, was forced upon Congress.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In essence, not voting for it is a vote against it.

Well, the outcome is already predetermined. And at the end of the day, it is an issue there was no transparency on. It was put together in 48 hours and rammed down the throat of Congress.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: All right, Senator, it`s still part of job.

RUBIO: Well, Greta, again, I was doing something, and that is running for president, so we don`t have to keep doing this in the future. I want to win this race, so that we have a president that doesn`t force us to take the garbage that was in that omnibus that was passed last week.


REID: Today, Chris Christie joined in, piling in on Rubio for missing that vote. Take a look.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He gives a good speech, Marco, and I want to hear his stirring speech that`s going to try to persuade people on the floor of the Senate not to vote for this awful spending bill, except he never showed up.

He was totally opposed to it and didn`t go there to vote no. Only in Washington could you have the guts to stand up and say I`m against something that you have a vote to vote no on, and then just not go.

Dude, show up to work and vote no, right? Just show up to work and vote no. And if you don`t want to, then quit.


REID: I`m joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable.

Sabrina Siddiqui is a political reporter for "The Guardian." Michael Tomasky is a special correspondent for The Daily Beast. And Ginger Gibson is a campaign reporter for Reuters.

And, Sabrina, you know, Marco Rubio brushed off that very attack about not showing up for his job when Jeb Bush tried to level it against him in the first GOP debate. But I`m wondering about the substance of it. Long term, down the road, are you hearing out there on the campaign trail that this actually could start to stick?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, his is an issue that seldom comes up on the campaign trail, certainly in many of the events in Iowa and New Hampshire with Marco Rubio. It`s not a question that`s asked of him say for maybe one town hall every couple of weeks.

But I will say is his opponents are trying to create this narrative that he has a thin record of accomplishment in the Senate. And if you`re Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, your entire message is that I`m a governor, I`m an experienced hand who has actually achieved legislatively what these first- term senators are promising to do, but have shown little record in the Senate of achieving.

So, I think that, you know, if they can make that narrative stick, it can become a problem for him. But I haven`t really seen a lot of voters complain. I think if anything, what Rubio has been able to seize on is frustration with Washington and saying that I`m trying to change the culture or the dysfunction.

A lot of Republican primary voters, of course, we know, have a lot of anger when it comes to Congress and the establishment there. So I think it could actually be an advantage, he`s not really associating himself with being on the Senate floor.

REID: And yet, Michael Tomasky, I`m wondering if the line, not voting for it is a vote against it, could come back to haunt Rubio in a campaign ad somewhere.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, sure it could. He`s handled all this very badly. And, you know, joy, I would -- my first instinct would be to think that a missed vote line of attack has only marginal utility and marginal effectiveness.

On the other hand, when I look at that statement from Rubio that you just put up there, responding to this new ad today, that`s a really defensive and detailed statement. A candidate doesn`t need to go into that kind of detail. You should just brush that off, with one or two lines. That tells me, he`s really nervous about this, and he thinks it is a big potential Achilles heel.

REID: And, Ginger, I`m wondering if he thinks it`s a bigger Achilles heel than having supported immigration reform, which the GOP base hates.

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: Rubio is risking feeding this narrative. And walking a very delicate line from saying, I`m going to fix the problem in Washington, we heard him say. You know, I`m doing this to fix it, to becoming part of the problem in Washington.

We`ve heard his critics criticize him, as you said, on immigration. If this starts to feed and snowball into, he worked on the immigration bill, which Republican voters think is a problem, he`s not showing up to votes he`s supposed to be at, which Republican voters start to think Washington isn`t working, and he`s part of that problem.

Then it becomes a bigger liability for him, with each layer getting at it on this criticism.

REID: All right. While Bush`s super PAC is attacking Rubio in Iowa, New Hampshire may actually loom larger as the must-win state for any establishment candidate hoping to emerge as the alternative to Trump.

But as "Politico" reported over the weekend, the infighting among establishment candidates isn`t helping any of them. Quote, "The fight for the establishment lane of the GOP presidential primary is turning into a circular firing squad. Forget Iowa, which Cruz appears to be locking up, it`s New Hampshire that will cull this field. And with Christie, Bush, and John Kasich making the Granite State the singular focus of their campaigns and Rubio should he lose Iowa, needing a top-tier finish, the fight to be the mainstream alternative to Cruz or Trump could end here."

And, Michael, I`ll come back to you on this. Because you do see, whether it`s Christie and Jeb Bush piling up on Marco Rubio or whatever the divide of the day is, you do see this cannibalization among these candidates. Does any of them, they`re all in about the same place, 10 percent, 12 percent or less, does any of them have the upper hand?

TOMASKY: I guess Rubio has the upper hand. I mean, he`s in a better position in New Hampshire. I should say, comparative upper hand. He`s in a better position in New Hampshire than Bush, and right now, Christie, although Christie has been picking up some momentum.

But, Joy, they`re stuck. I don`t see what kind of choice they have. The establishment slice of this pie is fairly small. You know, you take Trump and you take Cruz, they have the biggest slices of the pie. So, what`s left is what Bush and Rubio and Christie and Kasich have to fight over.

They have no choice but to attack one another. If they attack Trump, then even if it works and they eat into Trump`s support, that possibly goes to Cruz. So they have to go after one another.

REID: Yes, not a pretty picture.

All right. Sabrina, Michael, and Ginger are sticking with me.

And coming up, the possibility every political reporter dreams of and every Republican fears, a brokered convention.

The HARDBALL roundtable weighs in, next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: Be sure to tune in tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. My colleague, Jose Diaz Balart will bring you clash at the border, the new MSNBC special in partnership with Telemundo and the center for investigative reporting.

It`s a revealing look at the use of force at the U.S./Mexican border. That`s 11:00 p.m. Eastern, here on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.


REID: Donald Trump has just begun speaking tonight in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Let`s listen in.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let`s straighten it out. We got to do it right now. We owe $19 trillion, $19 trillion. You know, the word trillion. Ten years ago, did you ever hear the word "trillion". We owe $19 trillion.

And now these politicians, and I`m talking both sides, they approve that budget the other day. It was a disgrace.


No, that was -- that was a total disgrace. And we`re going to change things, folks. And we`re going to do it and we`re going to do it right. And we`re going to be proud of our country again.

Right now, we`re embarrassed by the people that we sent to Washington. And a lot of them, you know, we know where the Democrats coming from, but we said a lot of the Republicans, and you know, we, I give them money and you give them support and everybody, they go to Washington and they want to do the job, and then they get in there.

And they vote, let`s fund Obamacare. Let`s fund Syrians coming in. Who the hell knows who they are? Who knows where they come from? Let`s fund them.

You saw the other day, everything Obama wanted, he got. And he got it in one day. If you didn`t read the paper that day, you wouldn`t even read about it. It was just done like lightning fast. And I say, how does this happen?

And somehow these people, they go to Washington and they`re not the same. They campaign and everything`s fine and you`re excited and excited about them. And then they go therein and they become a regular cog and raise their hand, yes, yes. I think it`s probably good they don`t have to leave.

But they`re going to get voted out. People are tired of it. I tell you what, they`re tired of it.


You know, everywhere I go, it`s packed like this. Again, outside thousands of people trying to get in. Every place I go, it`s like this. We have the biggest audience by far. Nobody close on either side by far.

And we have -- I mean, it`s not even a contest. We had 20,000 in Dallas, we had 35,000 in Mobile, Alabama, 20,000 in Oklahoma. The only thing that stops us is the size of these arenas. If they were bigger, we`d have more.

There`s a movement going on which is totally beautiful. It`s totally beautiful. People want to see borders. They want to see proper health care, not health care that goes up.

Did you see what`s going on with Obamacare stuff? Twenty-five, 35, 45 percent increases, and the deductibles are so high, you`re never going to be able to use it anyway. Hopefully, you don`t need it. But the deductibles are so high, you`re never going to be -- it`s like worthless. You`re going never be able to use it unless you get run over by a tractor made in Japan, a Komatsu.

No, because, you know, Caterpillar`s got a lot of problems. Japan, as you know, they cut their -- they devalued their currency to such a point. I tell the story, my friend is an excavator, he went out and he bought all Komatsu equipment, he`s always bought Caterpillar.

And you look at what`s happened to Caterpillar and all. I mean, I could have predicted it. And this story goes back a year. But he said, I bought Komatsu and he felt very, very badly because he`s always bought Caterpillar. He said --

REID: That was Donald Trump in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

And I`m back with my panel, Sabrina, Michael and Ginger.

And, Sabrina, I want to come to you. Donald Trump isn`t saying anything new he hasn`t said for six months. And yet, that has been stunningly effective at attracting a majority at this point, not a majority but a plurality of the Republican electorate. To you on this, Sabrina, the Republican establishment has tried many things or many hopes and dreams to try to make him not be the front-runner.

What happens if Donald Trump goes into the convention next year, next summer and he`s got most of the delegates but not enough to be the nominee? How does the party handle that?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I still think that`s an unlikely scenario. If it plays out that way, one of the problems facing the Republican Party is they really do not want to risk Donald Trump seeking a third party run. They don`t want to risk a complete revolt on the part of Donald Trump supporters.

So, what it would take for them is to actually have other candidates coalesce around one alternative who could then contest Donald Trump.

But again, we aren`t seeing that happen. We were just talking about the infighting going on between Chris Christie, Jeb Bush going after Marco Rubio. If anything they`re showing less willingness to coalesce around one alternative. I don`t think any of them believe they need to since they only have a marginal difference between them.

That`s the problem facing Republicans. They don`t know how to take on Donald Trump.

REID: And I think therein lies the point, Michael, because while Sabrina says it doesn`t seem likely that the scenario goes in with the most delegates but enough delegates, what happen, there`s also no Republican coalesce -- there`s no alternative being coalesced.

Ben Ginsberg wrote an interesting piece where he gamed out some of the potential scenarios, two of which would be chaos. One of them that you have a number of candidates who go into the candidates with a lot of delegates but not enough, there are not that many winner-take-all states. I think the winner-take-all states are 16 percent total or less. The other scenario is you have one candidate, possibly Donald Trump, who goes in with not enough.

In your view, how would the Republican establishment which tried to bioengineer a quick primary, how would they will extricate themselves from that situation?

TOMASKY: I haven`t the slightest idea. Even an old guy like me on the stage has no experience with a brokered convention. So, we just don`t know.

But, yes, I guess Sabrina`s right. I guess the others would have to choose one and coalesce around that one, but then what do you do with the Trump delegates and the Trump supporters?

What if trump has won 35 percent or 40 percent of the support of Republican primary voters throughout this process? They`re going to throw those people to the curb? Gee, wow, that`s going to be a mess.

REID: It`s going to be mess, indeed.

The roundtable sticking with me. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: The roundtable is back to tell me something I don`t know. Tonight`s question: who will be the next Republican to drop out of the race for 2016? You can`t say Pataki because we know he`s going.


GIBSON: If I had to guess, I would guess Mike Huckabee. He`s struggling not raising the money. The books close on the 31st. He doesn`t have some dollars. I think he`s going to be short lived in the campaign.

REID: All right. Michael?

TOMASKY: Yes, I don`t see anybody dropping out before Iowa votes, I guess. After Iowa votes, Huckabee, maybe also Rick Santorum drops out if they perform poorly.

REID: Oh, Santorum.

All right. Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: I think Rand Paul might be one of the next to go. He almost didn`t make the cut for the main stage. He probably won`t make it in the next one. And you have to remember, he`s also running for re-election in the Senate. So, there might come a point in time where he might decide that his efforts are better spent focusing on that and not this unlikely bid for the presidency.

REID: All right. Bonus question to the group. Anybody can answer this one. What leverage does the establishment have to get any of them to drop out and support one of the establishment guys? Anybody?

GIBSON: Cabinet positions. Cabinet posts.

REID: Nobody wants those. Ambassadorship, cabinet posts, what could they offer them? The problem is the answer is probably nothing.

Michael, you want a crack at it?

TOMASKY: No, I mean, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes can offer them more than the Republican Party can.

REID: A show.


REID: That is the answer. You win, Michael Tomasky.

All right. Thanks to the roundtable, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky, and Ginger Gibson.

That does it for me and HARDBALL.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.